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First-ever state playoff game in Fallbrook ends with Warriors baseball win

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The first-ever state playoff game in Fallbrook for any sport was played May 30 on Fallbrook's baseball diamond, and the Warriors scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 victory over Peninsula High School of Rolling Hills Estates.

A single to open the bottom of the seventh was followed by two attempted sacrifice bunts which were successful in advancing the runner but not successful by the Panthers fielders in retiring the batter. An errant throw on the second bunt allowed senior Anthony Thomas to score the winning run.

"The kids just dug in and they're so coachable," said Fallbrook High Coach Patrick Walker. "We won today because of the bat discipline."

The Warriors had 10 hits including two doubles, both by senior Tanyon Smith. At least one Fallbrook batter reached base in every inning except the fifth.

"We put pressure on the defense," Walker said. "That's what makes plays and that's what won today."

The win improved Fallbrook's season record to 23-9-1; the Warriors' previous game May 27 at the University of California, San Diego was a 2-1 victory over Maranatha Christian which gave Fallbrook the CIF Division III championship. Peninsula won the CIF Southern Section's Division V championship, and the 3-0 victory over Apple Valley in the section final gave the Panthers a 20-10 season record entering the state playoff game at Fallbrook.

In the eight-team state Division IV regional playoffs, Sage Creek (who won the San Diego Section's Division II CIF championship) was seeded third, Fallbrook had the fourth seed, Peninsula was seeded fifth, and Apple Valley received the sixth seed.

The state playoff game in Fallbrook began with senior Peyton Van Eik retiring the first Peninsula batter on a flyout to center fielder Austen Baker and then coaxing a groundout to second baseman Jaxon Dent, who made the throw to first baseman Jace Cervantes. Peninsula senior Reed Woodward reached base on an infield single, but Van Eik obtained another groundout to second to end that half of the inning.

Dent was also Fallbrook's leadoff hitter, and he began the bottom of the first with a single to center field on a 1-2 count. A fielder's choice was followed by Smith's bunt, but a fielding miscue made both runners safe. The two runners advanced on a pitch which eluded the catcher, and Thomas was issued an intentional walk before a strikeout ended the inning.

A two-out double in the top of the second was followed by Van Eik's first strikeout of the game. Cervantes led off the second with a single to left field and would advance to second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball before an inning-ending groundout. Van Eik allowed a single to open the top of the third before retiring the next three batters.

With one out in the bottom of the third, sophomore Evan Thomas singled to center field and advanced to third on Smith's double. Anthony Thomas was again intentionally walked. The ensuing flyout to left field was not deep enough to score Evan Thomas, and a strikeout ended the inning.

Van Eik then struck out all three batters in the top of the fourth. He was also the first batter in the bottom of the fourth and singled to left center field. Van Eik advanced to second when freshman Waylon Puikunas singled to left field. Although junior Will Sherman grounded out to the pitcher, he advanced both runners.

Dent's line drive was caught by the shortstop, but both runners were able to retreat to their base and avoid a double play. Evan Thomas placed a ball between the third baseman and the foul line to score Van Eik. Smith sent a ball to the left field warning track which became a double and sent Puikunas across the plate while bringing Thomas to third. Anthony Thomas was intentionally walked to load the bases. Baker hit a ball to deep center field, but it was caught for the third out.

Peninsula tied the game in the top of the fifth with a full-count walk and a home run. Van Eik subsequently walked two batters but allowed no further scoring.

After the Warriors were retired in the bottom of the inning, senior Ethan Rink replaced Van Eik on the mound. Van Eik struck out five batters in his five innings.

"I felt pretty good on the mound. Our defense was playing really well. I just felt confident I could throw strikes," Van Eik said. "I was just able to execute pitches."

Rink allowed a double to left center field before striking out the next two batters and ending the top of the sixth on a fly ball to center field. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Evan Thomas singled to right field before a pop fly ended that frame. Rink retired the side in the top of the seventh on a flyout to center field, a groundout to Cervantes, and his third strikeout of the game.

"I threw the ball well today. My arm felt good and my off speeds were breaking well," Rink said.

Anthony Thomas didn't mind the three intentional walks. "First base was always open every time I came up, so I understood what they did," he said.

There were no runners on base when Thomas led off the bottom of the seventh. "I knew they were going to have to pitch to me," he said.

"I was looking off-speed," Thomas said. "I got it down the middle and just put a good swing on it."

The ball landed in right field for a single. Baker then tried to sacrifice Thomas to second. Peninsula threw to second base, but the throw was high and both Thomas and Baker were safe.

"We made them make the plays and it worked out in our favor," Baker said. "It was a great inning."

That brought Cervantes to the plate with no outs. "I had to get the job done," Cervantes said. "The bunt itself was really well placed."

The bunt was along the first base line. The throw to first base was wide, and Thomas came around to score.

That created Fallbrook's sixth consecutive victory. "I'm enjoying it with the coaching staff watching the kids with their great energy," Walker said.

Last year Fallbrook's girls basketball and softball teams won CIF championships, but both had first-round state playoff games on the road. Fallbrook's field hockey team won the CIF Division II championship in 2019, but field hockey does not have state playoffs. There were no state playoffs in 2014 when Fallbrook's boys soccer and boys water polo teams won CIF championships.

The CIF state playoff game for Fallbrook's baseball team was thus the first home state playoff game for any Fallbrook sport. "I'm really proud that we're the first team to do that," Walker said.

"I'm thankful," Walker said. "I'm thankful to be the head coach. I'm thankful for my staff. I'm thankful for the community who is so supportive."


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